English 'raiders' anger Scots by netting wild salmon at sea

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A cross-border salmon war has broken out between the Scottish river authorities and English fishermen using drift nets to catch the fish en route to spawning grounds north of the border.

A cross-border salmon war has broken out between the Scottish river authorities and English fishermen using drift nets to catch the fish en route to spawning grounds north of the border.

The River Tweed authorities have attacked crews fishing off the Northumberland coast for "indiscriminately harvesting" salmon stocks before they can reach Scottish rivers.

They say - and new figures from the Environment Agency confirm - that the drift-net fishermen of north-east England increased their salmon catch by 43 per cent last year.

Judith Nichol, director of the Tweed Foundation, which monitors stock levels, said the consequences of the increase were serious for the river: "They are taking 30-40 per cent of the annual salmon yield of the Tweed, yet they are making no financial contribution to support the fishery."

"This spring until June, anglers on the Tweed have been asked to put their first salmon back and release every second one after that. The commercial netsmen on the river have agreed not to kill salmon until June. Yet the north-east drift-net fishermen have no quotas and massively increased their catch last year."

The Tweed authorities are concerned because when salmon swim from Greenland through the North Sea along the north-east coast, they are heading for probably their only spawning. If they do not make it to the upper reaches of Scottish rivers, a new generation will be lost.

"It is totally contrary to good salmon management to catch salmon before they reach the rivers because you have no way of knowing what is happening to stocks," said Mrs Nichol. "We banned drift-net fishing in Scotland in 1962 and think the same should happen off the Northumbrian coast. It is a parasitic fishery."

Last week, a Government-commissioned review recommended that the drift-net fishermen of the north-east coast of England should be bought out, with the Government contributing "substantial funding" towards the cost of compensating the netsmen for leaving the fishery voluntarily.

Such a buy-out has been mooted by the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, chaired by Icelander Orri Vigfusson, which has already arranged similar buy-outs with net fishermen in Greenland and the Faroes.

Mr Vigfusson said: "This is terrific news. We have said all along that we will put our money down, and now I hope the British government will put its money down too. Eighty per cent of the salmon caught by the north-east netsmen are on their way to the great salmon rivers of Scotland."

However, similar recommendations have been made over the past 30 years and successive governments have failed to produce the necessary funding. It is estimated that it would cost several million pounds to buy out all the fishermen. They say they would be happy with such a deal. "As long as someone came up with substantial funding to compensate us properly, we would stop," said Derek Heselton, chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations.

There are only 68 netsmen left, he said. Both last year and this year, they have delayed fishing for salmon until 1 June, to avoid the early spring run. However, despite last season's record catch they have asked the Government for a 20-day extension of their season until late September.

Mr Heselton said: "We have an on-off relationship with the Scottish anglers because they think we are taking their fish. But the Tyne is one of the best salmon rivers in the country even though it is right in the middle of the commercial fishery. That makes a nonsense of what the Scots are saying. If they are having problems on the Tweed they should be looking at the river, not at what we are doing out at sea."

Fisheries minister Elliot Morley is currently studying both the recommendation to pay off the fishermen and their request for a longer salmon fishing season.